Defense wins championships. Yeah, sure.

Remember this Q & A with Les Miles after his team’s thrilling 44-41 loss in Athens?

Miles was asked if this is a new era of offense in the SEC. “I hope not,” he sighed.

Flash forward to last Saturday afternoon.  Auburn won a championship game that featured 101 points and more than 1200 yards of offense. The ball was moving with so little resistance at times that Gary Danielson essentially gave up trying to analyze what was happening.

If the Georgia-LSU game felt like a game that was marked by stellar quarterback play on both sides that overcame what the defenses threw at them (at least until the last LSU series), the SECCG put two defenses on display that were little more than paper tigers.  It wasn’t just that they had trouble coping with the offensive schemes in play.  There were plenty of puzzling decisions by the defensive coordinators – Missouri stubbornly stayed in a three-man front that Auburn simply ran around and Ellis Johnson waited until very late in the game to blitz to disrupt James Franklin – that were matched by sloppy fundamental play, as evidenced by a bunch of missed tackles by Missouri’s defense and scads of receivers that Auburn’s secondary simply elected not to cover.

Things were so crazy it made the Georgia-LSU game seem like an old Auburn-Mississippi State struggle by comparison.

Now I’m trying very hard to avoid sounding curmudgeonly here.  There’s no question Saturday’s game was entertaining, even thrilling, at times.  But there’s also no question for me that it lacked something that last year’s SECCG had in spades (besides Georgia being there, that is).  And I do wonder if we’ve reached something of an end of an era in the SEC.

The top two defenses in the conference stayed home on Saturday.  (In fact, Florida is home for good this season.)  And while, by and large, playing good defense makes for a winning record, playing mediocre defense doesn’t seem to be as big a bar for excelling as we used to think, as both Missouri and Auburn finished in the lower half of the conference in total defense and 8-4 Texas A&M finished dead last by a pretty wide margin.

There are a variety of factors in play, it seems to me.  Some of it’s the result of bringing in two teams from the freewheeling Big 12.  The number of experienced, quality quarterbacks in the SEC this season played a part.  You’ve got head coaches who refined their games in mid-major conferences coming into the SEC and having success with a more wide open version of offense.  And it feels more and more like the defenses can’t cope with all that.  It’s akin to the shock to the system we felt when Spurrier came in and blew things up with a previously unseen emphasis on a passing attack.

Now, defenses adapt, true.  That’s been the case before, even with what the Fun ‘n’ Gun wrought.  The quarterback position in next year’s SEC is going to be much greener, too.  So maybe things will even out again.  But there’s a part of me that wonders if something else is going on.  Maybe there’s an attitude change going on in coaching philosophy about what it takes to win.  Maybe there’s a growing feeling that there are other ways to skin the championship cat than to rely on having a shut down defense.

I could be overreacting, certainly.  But something sure does feel different to me after watching that game.  Now I wonder if next season will be an affirmation of that feeling.

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50 Comments

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50 responses to “Defense wins championships. Yeah, sure.

  1. DawgPhan

    Also noticed in those stats that UGA fielded the #4 defense in the SEC against conference teams.

    Auburn and MIzzou did not fair as well in conference.

    weird.

  2. I couldn’t believe how badly the Missouri defense was gashed by Auburn. Their problems stopping the run pretty much confirm that the game in Athens is very different with a healthy Georgia offense especially TGII3 and at least one more wide receiver.

  3. heyberto

    ugh.. I hope not. As much as I love great QB play, I hate seeing defense fall by the wayside. It has been such a defining aspect of SEC play, and I enjoy watching it on Saturdays so much that I just don’t want that to go away, just from a pure entertainment standpoint.

  4. I’m an Auburn hater for sure, so there is a portion of my opinion that will always be colored through that lens. Having said that, I felt the defenses (both) were as bad as it gets. It made the game comical. Mizzou running a three-man front against a team that can’t throw the ball is amazing. I was dumbfounded. Auburn leaving WRs wide open as if it was by design. Just all around terrible. The B10 title game was miles ahead of it as a game.

  5. Toom

    Did anyone catch Pollack and May getting into it last night? Pollack kept talking about linemen blocking downfield and how the NCAA should change a rule. I am not sure what rule he is talking about or if this would have a huge impact on these spread offenses but he certainly seemed to think it would. BTW, Mark May is a tool.

    • He’s talking about blocking downfield on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage. I agree with him. It’s the reason for all of WR screens you see in today’s spread offenses whether with linemen or receivers. Another rule that specifically favors the offense and gives spread QBs the video game statistics.

      • Just to clarify, is the main thing that they (the OL) can cross the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown without being flagged for “ineligible receiver”, as long as the ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage? I think in the NFL, the OL has to stay behind the LOS until the ball is thrown no matter what, so that’s why “downfield blocking” is a big deal at the college level……..the OL can get much further downfield earlier in the play in college than they can at the NFL level.

        Just making sure I understand the rule.

        Not sure I have an opinion on it either way, but I definitely agree that if the rule were changed, it would hurt the spread offenses.

  6. Scorpio Jones, III

    I would love to see a chart of the offensive holding calls in the SEC over the past say….10 years…my suspicion is that these are way, way down due to new rules.

    What I am afraid of is that we are watching the end of football for winning’s sake and football for tv.

    It is interesting to me that my old high school ran a wing tee,(from whence cometh the Malzahnater, in 1959…gulp, das a while ago, and demolished everybody in sight (The AJC said we were the best high school football team in the history of the known world.)…until the state championship game against Albany…12 games into the season. Albany kicked us back to the stone age. With defense.

    I don’t know exactly what that means, but it means something.

    Beelzebub did not come from the Big 12 to Auburn.

    I figure that in places where coaches are actually interested in playing defense, Tuscaloosa comes to mind, there are plans afoot to deal with things like Auburn…besides killing trees, of course.

    I would bet, had the Senator been blogging in the sixties, the discussion would be about the triple option…remember that?

    Maybe Grantham’s version of bend but don’t break in the fourth quarter is the new reality.

    • No matter what version of the option we talk about, defending it comes down to playing your assignment, making the tackle, and punishing the QB at every opportunity. We did that pretty well against the Tech option but didn’t against Auburn’s option until it was almost too late. You have to have defensive backs that can cover 1-on-1 to allow the front 6 or 7 to concentrate on the running game.

      • But really, this style of the Wing T that Auburn runs is not really an option offense. For the most part, there are no reads. They are just calling plays and executing. I’m very interested to see how a talent-laden defense with good depth and very strong coaching and with a month to prepare handles it.

        Going back to what SJIII said, I think the SEC not calling holding anymore is a big a factor as anything.

        And as someone else said earlier in the thread, obviously the targeting stuff has played a role as well. One other thing: A stat I’d be interested in is whether or not there has been a spike this year with blown knees and lower leg injuries with folks on D going low now. Seems that way…

        • Scorpio Jones, III

          You are right about the Wing T not being an option offense, although we did run some…actually a series of plays with a read on the defensive end.
          Which is pretty much what Malzahn is doing…man Auburn’s offensive line is something to watch. (ours was too…three out of five went to SEC schools (two to Auburn)…two guards were as fast as the running backs for about 15 yards.

        • They run zone read option even sometimes with a traditional triple option. Marshall was reading off the Missouri ends with Mason with even a slot receiver coming into the backfield to provide a pitch on the edge. They also run read option off the jet sweep look to a slot receiver in motion.

    • Coach Bobby Finstock

      Marietta Blue Devils?

  7. Doggoned

    I had the same feeling as yours while watching the Auburn-Mizzou score fest; The SEC is trending away from defense. Sad but likely true, and maybe we’ve been too hard on Grantham. He’s in the pack, not trailing it.

    • Bulldawg165

      Except we gave up more 30+ point games this year than LSU has in the past 5 seasons combined. But sure, he’ll help us get to the promised land ;)

  8. Normaltown Mike

    I think the creative juices started in high school & have crept up to mid majors & finally big schools (e.g. Briles & Malzhn). Not sure a solution will be reached until these offenses are played at the NFL & some coaches figure it out. Chip Kelly’ s success might help college ball by having some really smart people smoke it over.

  9. Russ

    I felt almost guilty that I enjoyed the Big Integer championship more than the SECCG. Of course part of that was hating that Auburn won and loving that Corch got beat.

  10. Honestly I think it started a couple of years ago, with Auburn winning it all with Cam. Yeah they had Fairley, and their D actually played pretty well against Oregon, but there was no doubt that the offense carried that team.

    If you score every time you get the ball, your D only needs to be good enough to get one stop. :)

  11. Irishdawg

    This year was sort of an anomaly in that there were several good, experienced quarterbacks running very dynamic offenses, and there were a few young defenses and some pretty bad ones. I believe LSU and Georgia will play better defense next year, and I think the conference’s better D coordinators will devise ways to deal with Auburn.

    • Bulldawg165

      “and I think the conference’s better D coordinators will devise ways to deal with Auburn.”

      Just curious, do you consider Grantham in that bunch?

  12. Smitty

    If only Gary Danielson had gave up talking as well…………..

  13. I think this was a down year for the SEC. I think the bowl games may prove that out, with the FSU-AU game being the capstone. Alabama was not as good as a year ago. Their o-line was less effective (how could it not be), and the offense just never seemed to be all there. A healthy Georgia was probably the best team in the conference even with a weak defense, but a healthy Georgia didn’t even make it through the first quarter of the first game of the season. South Carolina had a weak secondary, and they didn’t have the trigger-man to be anything better than 10-2. Florida fell down a well. LSU had to replace too many pieces, and didn’t have the defensive skill talent to match their offensive skill talent. Tennessee has no quarterback, and continue to be a dumpster fire (though, it appears someone is trying to put it out). A&M could have played their yell leaders on defense and not been any worse. Ole Miss and Vandy were competitive, but needed lots of smoke and mirrors (and some favorable officiating) to get to seven conference wins between them.

    That’s how you end up with Auburn and Missouri in the championship game. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the SEC went 3-7 in the bowls this year. All of these games at least give me pause, and I can imagine a scenario for a potential loss in each one:
    Ole Miss v. Georgia Tech
    Miss St v. Rice
    S Carolina v. Wisconsin
    LSU v. Iowa
    Mizzou v. Okie State
    Georgia v. Nebraska
    Auburn v. Florida State
    Vandy v. Houston
    The only ones I feel that are certain wins are A&M v. Duke, and Bama v. Oklahoma.

    • Dog in Fla

      How can you pick against Big Game Bob?

    • Will (the other one)

      Based on their bowl history, I’d say Ole Miss is close to a lock too. A month to prepare and certainly more motivation than Kiffykins Trojans last year should mean the start of a new bowl losing streak for the genius.

  14. AusDawg85

    Hello? (tap…tap…tap) Is this thing on? (squeal of feedback…sorry) Ahem.

    IT’S THE PACE OF PLAY! Look who is scoring the most (Oregon, FSU, Aubarn). Look who wants it (Richt and every other O coach). Look who hates it (Saban and D coaches).

    D’s can’t substitute personnel. There it is. That simple. Some adjustments can be made, but scoring will be up as long as the O has the advantage on controlling pace of play. You can even shuttle in a couple of running backs, but if your all-star DE (think Clowney) is winded, even if you can substitute for him, who is his backup? I’ve seen complaints about our keeping Herrara and Wilson in all game…hell, there wasn’t much opportunity to safely swap them out and trust you can get them back on the field if the opposing team gets rolling.

    And TV wants this, so don’t think the rules will get altered, which I think is why Saban was playing the “kids will get injured” card to see if the lawyers would at least step in.

    • Pace of play also gets to the rules being more and more tilted to the offensive side of the ball. It causes defenses to play more base looks and less blitzing and less disguise of coverages. I really don’t like that after 1st downs, they stop the clock long enough for the players to get onsides but the chains aren’t yet set. I thought that’s what the purpose of the stoppage was for (to get the chains reset). If HUNH football is what we’re going to see, let’s go to the NFL clock rules for 1st downs and keep the clock moving rather than giving the offense a chance to get a play signaled in while the defensive players are hustling just to get onsides.

      Maybe all of this just means I’m a “get off my lawn” curmudgeon on this topic.

    • Will (the other one)

      Except FSU plays slowly. So that isn’t totally it.

  15. hailtogeorgia

    There’s something to be said for wondering if a team is going to score, as opposed to expecting it. Last year’s game had a bit of uncertainty to it. This year’s game was just a matter of two clearly overmatched defenses. It was two idiots, yet one had to win. For me, it was painful to watch.

  16. Dave

    Some scenarios are just too simplistic. Having said that….

    Amazing how similar SEC opinion of Auburn’s offense circa 2013 sounds to B12 opinion of Oklahoma’s circa 2008.

    You could argue that the national championship game Is setting up exactly the same way the last 7 have – except this time the SEC team has the O and the opponent has the D. Yes, Auburn 2010 had more O and less D, but so did Oregon. FSU seems a different beast to me.

  17. Will Trane

    Mizzou’s 3-4 vs Dawgs’ D against Auburn. Auburn had 84 snaps against Dawgs…27 passing & 57 rushing. 4 Dawgs accounted for 51 stops…LBs and SS…Wilson, Herrera, Matthews, and Harvey-Clemons. Auburn only had 322 rushing yards, and nearly all their passing yards came on last play.

  18. 69Dawg

    College football like Pro Football is now pure entertainment and because offenses entertain more people that watch football on TV than people who actually know something about the game, we old head D guys are doomed. I would cheer the O but I would scream,rant and rave for the D. Those defensive parts of the game are getting fewer. If ESPN wants offense then CFB will give them offense. Remember the NCAA only enforces what it’s member schools pass as rules. This creep toward wide open O is actually brought to you by the Non-Automatic Qualifiers.

    You can now just out scheme the powerful D’s you don’t have to out man them. Saban has been recruiting the biggest fastest guys for a while but even though they were as, players and athletes, better than Auburn, Auburn’s scheme nullified the advantage. Luck certainly played a part especially against us but our talent and Alabama’s was overcome by lesser players running a scheme. You now have a conundrum, recruit great defensive athletes that freelance or recruit smart athletes that will play their assignments and stop the offense BS. We at least get GT every year so we have to try and beat it into our D to stay home but really if GT could recruit better we would be screwed.

  19. Jt

    We did shut the Barn’ down in the second half…so our “D” did adjust. Good point on Mizzou being stubborn about adjusting…

    • What in the heck are you talking about? Auburn scored 17 points with 232 yards in the second half. You sure have a crazy definition of shutdown defense. Auburn opened up the 3rd period with 2 scoring drives and then took their foot off the gas with a comfortable 3 td lead early in the 4th. What you call shutting them down was making them punt twice in the 4th…largely a result of their large lead.

      • Mayor of Dawgtown

        7 points and 70 of those yards came on the fluke play. If the UGA DBs knock the ball down Auburn only scores 10 points and has about 150 yards in the second half.

  20. BTW, LSU and SC defenses improved dramatically as the season progressed. Wish I could say the same for us,